"You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination (and various trail landmarks). That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Tourist Zone!"
OK, so I have to first come clean. If it wasn't for all the touristy stuff at the summit of Whiteface, I would have never found the love I have for the Adirondack High Peaks in the first place. I do have to say that even as a kid I did climb the two tenths of a mile to the summit from the parking area. It wasn't just the view that enthralled me, but rather the hikers that appeared out of no where from one of the summit trails. I was most impressed with their achievement, and I'm sure they enjoyed every bit of the awe I expressed to them. One day, I would hope that such a favor would be returned.
When Deb and I first climbed Whiteface and Esther, it was on a very overcast day with the summits blanketed in clouds. Because of the weather, they weren't allowing tourists up the Whiteface Memorial Highway. Despite the "above the clouds" view we got at the summit, we had shared it with only two weather scientists stationed at the research center. When we returned with Nick and Angela a couple of years later, life came full circle. We approached the summit to cheers, congratulations, and - as I expressed over two decades before - looks of awe from those who had driven to the top. And now here I am, another decade beyond that climb, with high hopes for this new group of climbers to have the same life affirming experience. Well......
It was an early start for all of us. But, unlike the Algonquin hike, I was the only one who got adequate sleep. The drive was ripe with anticipation and the breakfast at Howard Johnson's quick. We started on the trail by 8:30am, and walked promptly into the annoyingly steep mile long hike up Marble Mountain. After a stop for pictures and bug spray we pressed on. The trail continued it's steep ascent along the ridge of Lookout Mountain and it seemed like forever before we came up to the Esther trail junction. Only a couple of miles to go. Paul and I caught up with Matt, Frank, and Erin at a newly cleared ski run. It didn't seem like much longer and we were at the base of the highway retaining wall. I knew it would prove irresistible to Frank and Matt. I figured they would try to climb it. And, true to form, Frank got kinda.....stuck. Yes, it was pretty funny.
The final ridge walk to the summit was spectacular, despite the man-made reminders everywhere. The mountain falls away down into the valley with Little Whiteface and the ski center dramatically. It actually plays with your eyes, and pictures do not do it justice. Paul and I heard cheers from the tourists as our younger hikers rounded the corner past the summit buildings a few hundred yards ahead of us. As we approached, we were met by a couple from Florida with whom we had a very pleasant conversation with. But then, we dropped our packs in the middle of the zoo. Holy cow. Easily, over 100 people on the summit, all clambering to get their picture taken next to the quaintly, mountain-shaped summit marker. College girls doing yoga. A party for a 46er who just finished his 23rd round of the 46. Babies crying. A kid on crutches. All of this wouldn't been too bad, except that certain members of our group actually suffered dirty looks over a little mud and sweat while in the gift shop line from clean, pressed, and arrogant motorists. It takes all kinds...
After about an hour of the chaos and a couple of cold drinks we started back. Esther proved to be better than I remembered. The big bog in the col between Lookout mountain and Esther now has some narrow log bridges to help negotiate it. The hike down was exhaustively long. Marble mountain proved just plain painful. As we disrobed our gear, I was relieved to find my toes still intact. I have to agree with Matt, that - all in all - this trail was really pleasant hiking. Even the mud was better than what we dealt with on Algonquin.
The burgers were tasty at R.F. McDougall's on the way home. Considering everyone except for me got only 3-4 hours of sleep before this 11 mile hike that included 4 mountains, 2 above 4000 feet. Way to go, guys.